A Funeral Celebrant’s point of view

A funeral Celebrants point of view

As professionals working in end of life care, we work with patients and their families for what can be a long or short time. When our patient passes away, this can be the end of our journey with them, but it is the start of another journey for their family. A journey that includes loss, grief and so much change. And it all starts with a visit to the Funeral Directors, they sit with the family and make all the arrangements for their loved ones funeral where they get to say their goodbyes. As part of those arrangements they will meet with their funeral celebrant, who will officiate at the funeral. 

We spoke to Graham Kemp, who has been taking funerals for over 30 years, to give us an insight to what happens when we stop working with our patients. 

Tell us a little about yourself...

I was born in Worksop, North Notts. and have a brother three years younger than me. As a boy I loved to be outdoors and during the summer Holidays a gang of us would clear off for the day with our sandwich spread sandwiches and as long as we got back before dark, all was well. When I left school I became a carpenter, I did landscape gardening, which was great fun and then I trained to be a church minister, got married and had a beautiful daughter who has made me a proud Grandpa. To relax I draw or make ‘airfix’ models; when opportunity presents its self I delve into a little bit of theology and still enjoy being out in the countryside. My work is now taken up as a funeral celebrant.


What is your approach to working with a family when planning a funeral? 

I have four goals: 

Firstly, to assist a bereaved family through a very difficult time in their life and help them feel at ease as much as one can be in a time of heart ache. 

Secondly, it is my aim to honour the deceased as much as possible while representing the values and beliefs of that person. 

Thirdly to support the funeral director in providing the best possible service for the family.

Lastly receive my fee with a clear conscience knowing I’ve done my best and worked as hard as possible.

As soon as I am asked to take a funeral, I call the family and make a time to meet with them. This can be up to five days before the service is to take place. 

When meeting with the family, I spend time crafting the service. There are no official words that have to be used, therefor the service ceremony is as unique as the deceased. I spend up to 2 hours gathering information from the family and then I go away, and try to capture their loved one in a 30 minute bespoke funeral service. I create an order of service, which the funeral director prints. This is also a lovely keepsake for the family. 

What are some of the coping strategies people use to get through this process? Or not as the case may be...

Sometimes people may joke a lot and then on the day of the funeral they may well be in bits. Other times people will want to pour out their hearts and the questions I ask allows for that to happen, that’s when I just listen. There have been times when I’ve had to ask for the telly to be turned off or for the sound to be turned down. Some people don’t want to acknowledge their loved one has passed away. However, often families find it simply a joy to be able to tell me the story; tears are shed, laughter is shared and telling the story brings back some wonderful memories. All in all, it’s just good to talk.

What are some of the things families need to think through when considering their loved ones funeral? 

What will be said: I always ask if anyone in the family would like to speak at the service, it’s then you hear confessions of things left unsaid. You experience admiration and thankfulness as family members remember the role model or the generosity or the loved that was shared. 

What music will be played: music may play a part in the ceremony and any piece of music can be played. 

Any Spiritual content?: a funeral service doesn’t have to have a ‘spiritual’ element to it, so if a family doesn’t want hymns or prayers that’s fine. I’ve never had to commit anyone to the fairies unlike another celebrant I know of.

How does the funeral and the funeral preparation help in the grieving process?

I see this as some of the first steps in the grieving process. I will often encourage families to join in with the committal (Saying the final goodbye) on the day. In part of that committal, those families will hear themselves saying, “We let you go”, which brings a great sense of release and the feeling that this can be a new beginning as well as an incredibly hard time. At the crematorium curtains can be left open or closed and for some that decision can be a difficult one. Personally, I believe shutting the curtains brings closure ready to live out the new start. Nothing ever prepares you for the inevitable, particularly concerning death, but if there is support from people, a listening ear and prayers… grieving can become a healing process.

Are there some standout funerals, that stick in your mind?

The first one that comes to mind, was when we had to take a fire engine from a museum for the coffin to be brought to the crematorium. These measures were taken as it was the actual engine he drove as a young man. 

Another one that stands out was an 18 year old young man, who passed away suddenly in a car accident. In memory of their friend there were at least 25 racing cars in the cortège, the noise was thunderous, but it meant so much to the family. 

Funerals can vary from a time of joyous remembrance to punch ups in the car park and a prison guard attached to each guest. I have officiated at a few of Elvis Presley’s funerals and one or two of John Lennons also. 

I’ve also been asked to wear clothes that are outside my normal 3 piece suit. These include shorts and t-shirt, a football shirt, a Hawaiian shirt and the best one of all was a waistcoat, jeans and a flat cap! 

My favourite funeral (if you are allowed to say that) was one where there was a 20 piece gospel choir, singing as the coffin arrived. It was a real celebration of the life lived. 

I’ve been filmed for live links to Australia and one to New Zealand.  Nothing is too much. My mantra to families, is if you can think it, we’ll have a go at doing it as, as long as it’s legal!